Gandhi relics should be a medium to spread the message: Gandhi Museum director

March 5th, 2009 - 4:34 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, March 5 (IANS) The auction of Mahatma Gandhi’s relics in New York is legitimate as long as it is used to spread his teaching and not for commercial gain, says the director of the National Gandhi Museum, the country’s largest repository of items related to the man Indians call the Father of the Nation.

While the Indian government works overtime to stop a US collector from auctioning relics of the Mahatma, museum director Varsha Das said Thursday: “If there is a commercial motive behind selling the items, then it is wrong.”

“Instead, if somebody wants to use them to open a museum overseas, it may well be the medium to inspire and spread Gandhiji’s teachings,” she said, sitting in her office in the second floor of the museum that stands diagonally opposite Rajghat, where the apostle of non-violence was cremated.

And that’s how she also looks at the relics under her care too - as a “medium” to spread the Gandhian message.

A man who lived a life of simplicity, Gandhi frequently gave away his possessions. “There are so many things he had given and letters that he had written that it will be impractical to collect all the originals. People will then start exploiting this,” Das told IANS.

A few months ago, for instance, the culture ministry got a letter from Ahmedabad about two postcards written by Mahatma Gandhi and his wife Kasturba Gandhi. The ministry apparently offered to buy them at a token price but it was turned down, she said.

“The reply from Ahmedabad enclosed media reports of the price that a letter of Gandhi that the Indian government acquired in 2007 after stopping its auction.”

As Das sees it, Gandhi’s letters are already included in his collected works and “his most important relics are already in India”.

Up for auction in New York is Mahatma Gandhi’s iconic Zenith pocket watch, steel-rimmed spectacles, a pair of sandals and an eating bowl and plate. The collection has a reserve price of between $20,000 and $30,000. But the Delhi museum also has those items in its possessions - the relics are displayed on a flight of stairs to the director’s office.

Also in the museum is the bloodstained dhoti that Gandhi wore when he was assassinated on Jan 30, 1948, enclosed in a rectangular glass box along with one of the three bullets that Nathuram Godse fired and Gandhi’s pocket watch.

In an adjoining room, the walking stick that Gandhi used during the epochal salt march to Dandi is prominently displayed. The same hall also has some unusual items - two extracted teeth, a nail cutter and even an ear-cleaner.

In the same row are his spectacles, rosary beads and a small statue of three monkeys.

The Delhi museum was founded in 1951 - only three years after Gandhi’s death. There are five other museums, known as Gandhi Sangrahalayas, across the country - at Mumbai, Barrackpore, Sabarmati, Patna and Madurai.

The directors of the six institutes held their annual meeting in Patna recently, on Feb 27. “We did discuss the auction issue there. There was a feeling that Gandhiji’s relics should not be used for commercial purposes,” Das said.

With auction houses marking high reserve prices for Gandhi’s relics, the museum director is also anxious about the security of the items at her institute. “If people know that they can get high prices at auctions, then we need to take more care of our original items.”

The other regional museums have only a few original items, chiefly in Mani Bhawan, which houses the museum in Mumbai, with the rest displaying replicas from the National Gandhi Museum, run by an NGO with funds from the government.

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